Poker is more than a game. For serious players, it’s a lifestyle dedicated to continuous learning and self-improvement. Below, are the top ten lessons for how to live a poker life:
Lesson #1: Know The Odds
In high school, some buddies of mine had a poker game. We used to play for quarters; I had never heard of No Limit Texas Hold ‘em, and I’m sure none of them had either. Crazy eights was our game. I can still picture the kitchen table we used to play at. Chips, soda, and the invincibility of youth. “Mama said don’t chase” was our mantra when we were on a draw – the first piece of poker strategy I ever digested.
Lesson #2: Only Play With What You Can Afford To Lose
Fast forward to college. I was a freshman in ‘02 – the height of the Poker Boom – but I never played. My roommates did though; I thought they were ridiculous to gamble online. I can still hear them in my mind’s eye yelling and screaming every night; one of their father’s came one day and cut up their credit card. I think the final total he lost came to at least several thousands of dollars. I didn’t wish him any ill will – I just figured he had got what he deserved.
Lesson #3: Never Apologize At The Poker Table
I’m a Jersey boy; a ninety minute southbound drive on the Parkway separated me from Atlantic City growing up. My first poker session was at the Tropicana when I was in college. I remember it vividly; I sat at the Limit Hold ‘em table. I ran well, of course. One hand I got there on the River, and the guy across the table yelled out that he should be playing No Limit, so he could push people off their bad hands. I apologized; the woman next to me told me that the game is all about patience, and to never apologize when playing poker.
I booked a win my first session and was hooked. Even today, I look at my wife every beautiful, sunny, summer day on the Jersey shore and say, “it’s a great day to go play poker at the Borgata.” She knows I’m only half-joking.
Lesson #4: Live Life On Your Own Terms
My first poker idol was Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier. I bought her autobiography at a bookstore in Lille, France, where I taught english for a year after college. Her most intense memory of her first – and only – day of work at a top Montreal law firm was her boss telling her he had only taken two weeks of vacation a year, for the last fifteen years. She quit the next day and took a job dealing blackjack in Paris instead.
“THESE ARE MY PEOPLE,” I wrote in big, capital letters under the end of that chapter – and then underlined it twice.
Lesson #5: Be Focused; Stay Hungry
Despite my bravado, I too eventually ended up at law school. My first semester was so intense I studied to the point of a near mental breakdown. The idea was to work harder than anyone else, and then get a good summer internship. Buy my finals were in December, 2007. No interviews; no jobs. Sitting in my basement, I saw an advertisement for the old Full Tilt Poker on ESPN. Thoughts of my roommates in college, already four years in the past, swirled in my head. “Screw it,” I muttered.
Thus began my online poker career. I stopped paying attention in class, grinding the micro’s instead. I’ve never been very good at online cash poker; I’m pretty good at tournaments though. I graduated law school, and embittered over the lack of jobs, decided to spend the summer playing on PokerStars – instead of studying for the NJ bar.
Lesson #6: Be Humble, or Be Humbled
I busted a SCOOP tournament that year in 96/16,498 when I got it in good on the flop w/KK against 77. A River 7 crushed my dreams and sent me to the rail after 12 hours of play. Winning $100 never felt so awful; it was gone to the cash game tables in about 15 minutes. I didn’t even want it in my account. That was over five years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
I failed the bar exam.
Lesson #7: You Can Only Control The Things You Can Control
The Grind had seized me and didn’t let go. After law school, I started talking to other players online and studied math for the first time since high school. A yellow sticky note on my monitor exhorted me, “keep betting for value and fold if they raise.” Slowly, results came. I was beating 10nl cash; I built my roll up over the course of a month.
For thirty days at least, I was a winning online poker player.
Then, Black Friday hit and I went on life-tilt. I spewed off a month’s worth of patient work over the course of a few sessions.
Lesson #8: Never Give Up
I don’t live in the USA now, so I still play online all the time. It’s not about the money, though. I moved on from the law, and now make a living writing B2B marketing content in the high-tech world – a job I only got as a direct result of my experience as a freelance poker writer.
The micro’s continue to elude me; I think of the NJ bar exam sometimes while I grind.
When I do return to NJ to visit my parents, I play on the legal sites. I made $1,000 in two weeks playing micro’s tournaments on Borgata.com, WSOP.com, and 888.com; I think I’m a good tournament player. Maybe it all goes back to my first lesson at the Trop in AC, but I don’t know.
Lesson #9: Always Remember That Poker is Beautiful
What I do know, is that even though I lost $75 playing poker online today, there’s always tomorrow.
I’ve found this beautiful, amazing, game that has given me so many good times with friends, taught me so much about math, challenged me to improve at emotional self-control, launched my career, and has been the catalyst for friendships with independently minded people around the globe that I never would have known otherwise.
Lesson #10: Poker Is So Much More Than Just A Game
No matter what, tomorrow is another poker day, another poker story, another poker lesson.
Another day in a poker life.